Bophuthatswana Coup of 1988

Start Date End Date
1988-10-10 1988-10-10
Attempted Coup in the former Bophuthatswana, led by disgruntled soldiers and some politicians, which was crushed by the South African Army, thus prolonging the political existence of the homelamd.

The attempted coup in the former Bophuthatswana in October 1988 was initiated by rebel factions of the Bophuthatswana Defence Force under the leadership of Mr "Rocky" Malebane-Metsing, official leader of the opposition People's Progressive Party (PPP). The coup leaders seized the headquarters of Radio Bop and announced that a coup had taken place. The President of Bophuthatswana, Lucas Mangope, and a number of his cabinet members, together with officers of the Bophuthatswana Defence Force, were rounded up and detained in the local stadium. Mangope later claimed he had been obliged to remain in his pyjamas all day and was insulted by the "small boys of the army." There were spontaneous outbursts of popular support for the coup throughout the ensuing hours in Bophuthatswana. However, the next day South African Defence Force Puma helicopters flew into Mmabatho and paratroopers staged a dramatic rescue of the detainees at the stadium. With little apparent cohesion of planning, resistance melted away. Metsing fled to Botswana and joined the ANC in exile. The coup's military leaders, led by Warrant Officer Timothy Phiri, were rounded up, and all government buildings were temporarily secured by the South Africans. South Africa's President Botha appeared in the media to state that "we have had problems but we are back in full control," hastily correcting himself to say that "the President of Bophuthatswana is in control"! Mangope appeared on TV to proclaim the crushing of the coup, but his image had been dented and he was visibly shamefaced by the incident.

Subsequent evidence given at the trials of those implicated in the coup attempt suggested that the motive was not to challenge the basis of the homeland system, but rather to gain a larger share of it for the plotters. However, the event was a significant milestone in the short political history of Bophuthatswana. Mangope's retribution was swift and brutal, not only in his treatment of the rebels, but anyone he suspected of even supporting the attempted coup, thus raising political repression and ironically perhaps, increasing the numbers of those disaffected, and raising the determination of the residents of the homeland to rid themselves of the entire system.  
Eventually 195 people, soldiers and members of the PPP, were charged with treason, and a reward of R50,000—00 offered for information leading to Metsing's arrest. Finally the defence team argued that they could not be charged with treason as Bophuthatswana was not an independent state, but this was rejected by the judge. Eventually, after a long trial, 142 men were found guilty in the Bophuthatswana Supreme Court of treason or terrorism and sentenced to terms of between 18 months and three years in jail.


South Africa's North-West province: A Guide to its History and Heritage. © 2017

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